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Tonic Water: Seven facts about the thirst quencher

Tonic Water has made an amazing comeback in the wake of the gin renaissance. The supermarket item that was once only available in plastic liter bottles has now mutated into a premium mixer in small glass bottles. But what exactly is tonic water? We provide seven facts about the bitter thirst quencher.


Oasis sang ‘I’m feeling supersonic, give me a gin and tonic‘. As is known, gin has experienced a renaissance similar to that of John Travolta after Pulp Fiction in recent years. In this fairway, the dance partner in the glass, the tonic water, came and still comes to new honors. More and more brands are being added, more and more classics are being unearthed, and more and more flavors are vying for the favor of guests and bartenders.


But what exactly is tonic water? Where does it come from and what distinguishes it? We have put together seven facts about what is probably the most popular filler in the bar.

1) What is tonic water made of?

Put simply, the classic tonic water is a quinine-mixed, carbonated water. Optionally, sugar is added, fruit acids depending on the taste. The higher the quinine content, the more bitter the taste. Quinine is obtained from the bark of the cinchona tree, also called the cinchona or fever tree. Despite its name, it does not come from Asia but from South America.

Quinine flavor on a large scale cannot be artificially produced. In tonic water, quinine, which is only available on prescription in Germany, acts as a flavoring agent. The concentration permitted in food is too low to have any medicinal effect. Nevertheless, tonic water must be labeled with the addition “aroma”. Tonic ’translated from English means strengthening, strengthening’, the Greek ‘tonic’ means gives resilience ’.

2) Why quinine and how was it discovered?

Quinine, which is available in pharmacies today, looks back on a long, mythical and sometimes crazy history. The indigenous peoples of South America had known about the healing power of the bark for a long time, and it was only the European conquerors who made it into medicine against malaria.

A Spanish soldier allegedly fell into a pool lined with cinchona trees during a malaria attack and woke up healthy again. The legend persists that the Countess of Chinchón was saved in 1638 by a chief's daughter. There is no historical evidence of this, but the tree was probably named after her. The fact is that quinine was the only effective remedy against malaria until the middle of the last century.

3) Who was ultimately the inventor of the tonic water?

To this day it is not exactly clear who first extracted quinine, but it is likely that almost pure quinine could be obtained from the recipe of the two French pharmacists Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou from 1820.

In 1858 London Erasmus Bond patented a tonic water for the first time. The company of the German Johann Jacob Schweppe, purveyor to the court of the British royal family since 1831, brought its quinine and lime mixed mineral water onto the market for the first time on a large scale in 1870. Schweppe himself had died in 1821.

4) Is there a quinine limit in the tonic water?

In Germany, the addition of quinine is regulated by the German Aroma Ordinance, which prohibits the addition of quinine in all other beverages and in all foods. Spirits may contain a maximum of 300 mg / l, while the maximum amount for tonic water (and bitter lemon) is 85 mg / l. But basically the amount regulates itself: Anything beyond that is inedible due to the bitterness factor.